A/N: Another companion to 'True Faces'. Wrote this a while ago but only just uploading it due to work commitments! More from me soon, and let me know what you think. Thanks for reading!
'So you just left him for Nikki to deal with, did you?'
Jo glanced up from her precise carrot-chopping at Lorna's disapproving tone and smiled. 'Her job, not mine.'
Lorna pursed her lips though the sternness didn't quite reach her eyes. 'I must remember to tell her exactly how to get her own back.'
'And how would that be then?' she challenged
'Deprive you of your morning coffee: how else?' Coming over to the counter, her partner questioned, 'What are you doing to those? I said dice not desecrate.'
Indignantly, Jo half-turned but she couldn't help but grin at the look of mock-annoyance on Lorna's face. Dropping the knife next to the collection of (admittedly small) segments of carrot, she retorting, 'I have been feeding myself pretty well for quite a while, you know.'
'Takeaways don't count,' the Scot answered, picking up the knife. 'I suppose if you want a job doing…'
Stepping back, Jo murmured, 'I think I prefer it when Sarah's here. Less backchat.'
Lorna threw a look over her shoulder. 'Do you think Nikki minded?'
'What, me leaving her with Mr Weak-Bladder? Probably. But Nikki doesn't hold a grudge. Lucky for Di.'
'What's Diane got to do with it?' Lorna queried, glancing backwards again.
Realising suddenly that her lover wasn't in on Nikki and Diane's little secret, Jo shrugged. 'I'll lay the table.'
'It doesn't need doing yet,' objected Lorna.
'I could have another crack at the carrots,' she offered.
'What're you hiding, Jo?'
After a few moments of debate, she decided that Lorna knowing probably wouldn't affect Nikki and Di at all. They'd been together properly (though secretly) for six months now and still seemed fairly solid from what Jo could see. She had to admit that she was a little surprised by that fact. She'd rather thought that Di behaving like some kind of wronged party and telling Doug behind Nikki's back might've finished them off but… Well, getting shot obviously had a strange impact on some people and Nikki was apparently content with the situation. Besides, Lorna wasn't exactly going to shout it from the rooftops, was she?
Dropping the desecrated carrots into the casserole dish and pushing it into the oven, Lorna then came to sit beside her at the table. 'What aren't you telling me, Jo?'
'Diane and Nikki are a couple,' she replied finally.
Lorna's brow furrowed. 'Pardon?'
'Yeah, I couldn't believe it myself but…' Trailing off as she noticed an unfamiliar expression on her partner's face, she then asked, 'It's not a problem, is it?'
'For some reason I thought she was married, that's all.'
'Well, she was. She and Doug split up about Christmas.'
'And then she started seeing Diane?'
Jo almost smiled. 'It was more a case of Diane being the reason Nikki left her husband.'
Whatever Lorna was thinking at that precise moment, Jo couldn't ascertain. That said, she'd only been seeing the CSE for a couple of months, but she'd reckoned she knew her quite well. This wasn't how she'd expected her to react. If she was honest, she'd just thought it'd be a raise of the eyebrow and on with the evening but… No, she could half see herself regretting making this little announcement.
Eventually, Lorna cleared her throat. 'Why do you know all this?'
Shrugging again, she felt even more uncomfortable. 'Diane needed someone to talk to. Did you say you had a bottle in the fridge?'
When she was on her feet, Lorna said icily, 'I have to pick up Sarah, remember.'
'Oh, right, yeah.' Spinning back on her heel, Jo sighed. 'What do you want me to say? I don't really see the problem here.'
Her partner frowned. 'You really don't?' When Jo shook her head, she continued, 'Well, for starters, Nikki has kids, doesn't she?'
'Yep, two girls from her marriage. Doug's got two boys of his own as well.'
'Right. So, four kids, a husband, an entire life, and she leaves it for Diane?'
'You're making it sound worse than it was,' Jo answered defensively. 'You're making Nikki out to be a…'
'Did Diane do all the running?' Lorna cut in.
'Yes.' At the beginning that was the truth. In fact, Nikki had only really pursued Di when Di was trying desperately to do the selfless thing. That had been after Doug had taken the girls: but she wasn't about to go into that with Lorna when she already looked so disapproving. She was starting to long for five minutes previously, when the only thing she had to worry about was whether she was dicing or murdering the carrots.
'Did you help her?' Lorna asked a few moments later.
'I lent an ear, that's all,' she replied. Not strictly true but…
Maybe Lorna could see she wasn't telling the whole truth. At any rate, she stood and picked up her car keys from the counter. 'I'm going to pick Sarah up.'
Jo checked her watch. 'You said eight. It's just before seven.'
'Well, she'll have to put up with it, won't she?' Lorna said. 'The casserole needs stirring at half-past.'
'Lorna…' she began, intercepting her lover before she reached the kitchen door and placing a hand on her arm. 'Will you tell me what's going on here please? I know that it might seem a bit strange but, you know, they love each other. And they make each other happy: surely that's the most important thing?'
For the first time in the conversation, Lorna met her eye. 'Jo, being cheated on is the worse feeling in the world. Knowing you're not good enough for someone, knowing that the last nine years of your life have been a complete lie... You can't imagine it. And it's just irresponsible when there're children involved.'
Averting her gaze slightly, Jo focused on the cream wall. 'Nikki did her best. She loves her kids to pieces. She's not Alex.'
'I didn't say that she was.'
'No, but you were thinking it. Nikki just fell in love, that's all. Might not've happened at the best time, but it happened. It doesn't just pop up when you want it to. Doesn't happen when you're free of responsibilities; don't have kids and ties.'
'At least I wasn't still married, Jo!' Lorna said heatedly. 'Would it have made a difference to you if I was?'
'Oh, course it would've!' she replied dismissively. 'But, for the record, Di didn't set out to ruin Nikki and Doug's marriage!'
'She went after a married woman!'
'Is your problem actually that Nikki was a woman?' Jo questioned. 'Because if it…'
'Jo, I've never made any secret of who I am! I just find it a little strange that Nikki had an affair with a woman after…'
'After what?' Jo interjected. 'You don't know anything about her. I don't know much, come to that, but at least I'm not out to judge her.'
'Neither am I!'
'You're doing a pretty good imitation of it!' Frustrated, she stepped back a few paces. 'Go get Sarah. Go on.'
The door slammed a few seconds later and Jo sank back down at the table. That had gone spectacularly, hadn't it? Just the night she'd envisioned after a huge stack of paperwork and the suspect from hell. It was her own fault, she supposed. After all, she was trying to be open with Lorna, which involved no secrets, and this had blown right up in her face because of it. Just like when she'd kept Alex's dirty picture collection to herself: that had come out when she was most relaxed. There was just something about her relaxing and letting things slip that she really shouldn't that went together.
But- and here was the thing- Lorna would kill her if she got the faintest hint that she wasn't being honest. It was her past, it was Alex. She needed honesty or she got… Well, she got like she just had. Maybe she assumed because she'd assisted Di and Nikki that she didn't think cheating was a big deal. That wasn't the case at all. She'd been on the receiving end of it once or twice, though not with anyone special; and she didn't like the way it felt. Besides, why would she even contemplate that when she kind of liked what she was getting into? The last couple of months had been some of the best of her life. She didn't want to lose Lorna. But, equally, she couldn't carry on being honest with her if Lorna didn't then like what she was hearing. Bit of a lose-lose situation, wasn't it?
Lorna rubbed the fingers of her free hand over her forehead before she went into Sun Hill station. It was bad luck- typical luck, but still bad luck- that she'd had to come here today but it had to be done. It was work, of course, whether Jo was in the building or not.
The previous night, when she'd returned from picking Sarah up, Jo had immediately made her excuses and left. Lorna had the feeling that she'd only stayed to make sure the cooker didn't burn the house door. Considerate of her, perhaps, but still it was a duty. Sarah also noted something wasn't quite right but was smart enough not to draw attention to it. One of the many things Lorna appreciated about her daughter's temperament.
Nikki and Roger Valentine were behind the desk. Glancing up, the blonde sergeant smiled. 'Hiya. You here to see Jo?'
Attempting to appear relaxed, she answered, 'DCI Meadows wanted a chat with me.'
Checking her watch, Nikki muttered, 'I know him and the Super are in with the Borough Commander until one. I'll take you up there myself in five minutes. Have a seat.'
Nodding, she moved over to the chairs near the door and settled down. Nikki went on discussing something with Roger and Lorna found her eyes involuntarily trained on the sergeant.
She was having a difficult time accepting that Nikki, who she'd come to see as a friend when Alex was doing his worst, had abandoned her family after an affair with another woman. Maybe Jo was right: maybe it was a mite hypocritical. Yet she did truly believe that she would have the same issues had Nikki had an affair with another man and subsequently left her husband. It was the way her mind worked. It came from living with Alex, knowing his lies and his constant manipulation. She just didn't believe that anything could ever be powerful enough to induce splitting up a family. Again, that was hypocritical perhaps. But she hadn't split up a happy family when she'd divorced Alex. From the reports of what he'd been up to since, she was under the impression she'd done both herself and Sarah a great big favour.
Oh, maybe she had overreacted a little with Jo. She'd just been surprised, that's all. Something she'd learned to do when she was shocked was to get out of there and not show her surprise. That was why her first instinct had been to leave the house when she was growing heated. She avoided confrontation if she could; she always had. That's how she'd been able to put up with Alex for so long. She'd never looked at the problem directly if she could, and she aware that was cowardly but so what?
Without warning, the automatic doors zoomed open and in flounced an elderly woman, complete with a jiffy bag in her right hand. Going straight to the desk, she announced, 'I want to speak to PC Noble.'
Roger cleared his throat. 'I think she's in the canteen. I'll get her, Sarge.'
'Thanks,' Nikki replied then smiled politely at the civilian. 'I'm PC Noble's superior officer- is there anything I can help you with?'
'Are you responsible for her attitude?' the woman demanded.
Nikki paused. 'I didn't get your name.'
'Right, Mrs Drayton,' the sergeant went on calmly, 'has there been some problem with the way PC Noble has dealt with your case?'
'She didn't think it was very important, that's all! Harassment by my neighbour! Might not matter to her but…'
'Well, of course it's an important issue. I apologise if PC Noble was unsympathetic.'
'This came through my letterbox,' Mrs Drayton continued, holding up the jiffy bag and tipping out the contents. Nikki stepped back an inch as various dismembered segments of raw fish splattered out into the desk. 'Tell her thank you very much!' Mrs Drayton declared before leaving via the automatic doors.
Lorna barely had time to appreciate the look of distaste on Nikki's face when Diane came through to join her… sergeant… behind the desk. Though she was trying not to appear too interested, she couldn't help but watch this exchange.
Diane took a long look at the fish as Nikki covered her nose. 'Roger said there was someone to see me. Didn't think he meant a bag full of kippers.'
'Don't quote me, but I think it's actually haddock,' Nikki replied.
'What, with that colouring?'
'Well, you wouldn't put fresh fish through a letterbox, would you?'
Diane bit her lip. 'Wasn't Mrs Drayton, was it?'
'Bingo,' Nikki answered. 'What did you say to her?'
Whilst pulling out a pair of plastic gloves and beginning to gingerly load the pieces of rotted fish back into the jiffy bag, Diane muttered, 'I just didn't take it all that seriously, I suppose. She claimed her neighbour's been harassing her for weeks but she had no evidence, no corroborating statements: nothing.' Dropping the final piece of fish back into the bag, she added, 'I could've been more sympathetic, I know, but…'
Nikki held up a hand to stop the speech. 'I'm not giving you a lecture. I just think you should apologise to her for your attitude, that's all.'
Lorna saw Diane smile softly as she pulled off her gloves. 'I'll get the fish dusted for prints, how's that?'
Nikki chuckled. 'Perfect.'
Before she moved to the door, Diane questioned, 'Are we still on for tonight?'
'After I've seen the girls I'll be over.'
'Well, I'll wait,' Diane replied, throwing her an indecipherable glance before leaving.
Roger returned a few seconds later. 'Is that fish I can smell, Sarge?'
'Very good, Roger,' Nikki answered. 'I'll get a cloth.'
As Nikki disappeared into the station, Roger glanced to where Lorna herself was sitting. 'I've got the feeling I missed something there.'
She smiled. 'I think you might've.'
A couple of minutes later Nikki came into the actual reception area, tossed a cloth at Roger then came over with a plastic beaker of coffee. Handing it over, she apologised, 'I checked and that meeting's still going on. Thought you could do with this.'
'Thanks, I appreciate it,' Lorna answered.
'And how are you doing now?' Nikki asked. 'You know, since Alex and everything.'
'Not too bad actually,' she said honestly. 'I mean, I'm just grateful Sarah's not aware of what happened. I couldn't imagine having that conversation with her yet. At some point, yes,' she continued, anticipating the next statement, 'I'll have to. But hopefully not until she's more equipped to deal with it.'
'That's a logical way of looking at it,' replied Nikki with a small smile.
'I just hope it doesn't happen for a very very long time,' Lorna added after a moment.
The sergeant nodded. 'I don't blame you.'
Pausing, Lorna seriously thought about what she was planning to ask before she did so. Then she queried, 'How are you keeping?'
'What, aside from having fish thrown at me?' Nikki grinned then shrugged. 'No, I'm okay. I suppose Jo filled you in on everything, did she?'
'Well, she mentioned something, yes.'
The blonde surveyed her shrewdly. 'Let me guess; you don't approve?'
Lorna shook her head. 'I haven't a right to approve or disapprove.'
'No,' Nikki conceded, lowering her voice. 'But I would like to explain something.'
'Not for my benefit, you don't,' she answered, beginning to feel an odd sensation creeping up in her stomach. She recognised it all too well. It was the feeling that had plagued her for a few days after she was exonerated of blame for Alex's little accident with a candlestick. It had nothing to do with Alex and everything to do with her making a rash and wrong choice about Jo.
'Even so,' the officer said, taking a moment then looking up at her properly with a soft determination on her face. 'You probably think I'm a terrible mother. I admit, I think the same sometimes. But I get through that by imagining what my kids would have to put up with if me and Doug were still together. I mean, I didn't just have an affair, Lorna: I fell in love. Maybe you think I was wrong to break up a family but I honestly believe it's better this way.'
Lorna eventually nodded. 'You may be right. I don't know anything about your situation, Nikki; I don't pretend to. But I still had an opinion.'
'As would everyone in this nick,' the sergeant replied, glancing towards Roger at the desk. 'Which is the only reason we're keeping it quiet.'
Understanding, she said, 'I'm sorry I judged you. But can I tell you something, as a friend?'
Nikki inclined her head. 'Go on.'
'You've got a bit of fish on your shirt.'
Ten minutes later, Nikki went upstairs to check again on the meeting with the Borough Commander while Lorna finished her coffee. The doors opened again and this time Jo entered, stopping short when she spotted her.
'Hi,' the DC muttered uncertainly. 'Waiting for me?'
'The DCI,' she answered then, as Jo started to move, she asked, 'have you got a minute?'
Glancing at Roger behind the desk, Jo motioned her into the front interview room. Closing the door, she said, 'I don't want another argument, especially not here.'
Shaking her head, Lorna explained, 'I've had a chat with Nikki.'
Her lover frowned. 'Oh?'
'I was out of line last night, Jo.'
The detective shook her head. 'No, you were honest, that's all. Better that than anything else.'
'That as may be,' Lorna replied, 'I still overreacted.'
'You did a bit,' Jo admitted, taking a seat. 'I understand why, if it's any consolation.'
'It's not,' she answered, leaning back against the wall and sighing. 'Sometimes I don't know he's creeping up on me until he's in my head. Alex had affairs because he didn't care about me or about Sarah… I assumed that about Nikki and it was a load of rubbish. I saw her with Diane earlier. You know, you were right. They do love each other. That is an important thing. I just couldn't get away from the fact that it had happened to me.'
'Nikki's not a bad person,' Jo said. 'Neither's Di.' They just got involved in something they couldn't help. And you can't tell me you've never done that.'
Lorna smiled briefly. 'No, I can't.'
Standing, Jo approached her. 'Maybe I shouldn't have left the way I did last night.'
'Oh, I ran away first.'
'Mmm, but… We can't both keep doing that, can we?'
'No, I know, but…' Lorna shrugged. 'That's a thought for another time.'
Jo grinned. 'Yeah, I should actually…'
'Go on,' Lorna replied as the door opened and Nikki popped her head around. 'Hi.'
'This is where you're hiding,' the sergeant said with a smile. 'DCI's finished; he'll see you now.'
'I'll see you tonight,' Jo said as they left the office.
Lorna nodded. 'I'll look forward to it.'